‘LaPolitics’: Louisiana’s new congressional map means the emergence of new politics
State Sen. Cleo Fields of Baton Rouge broke what may have been the least surprising political news of the month when he announced plans recently to run for the newly redrawn majority-Black 6th District currently held by Congressman Garret Graves.
Fields appears to be the early favorite to take the seat and return to Congress. But if you’re placing bets on who will represent Louisiana in D.C. next year, keep in mind that several open questions remain, such as:
Will the courts bless the new map?
Will other prominent Democrats run in the 6th?
How vulnerable is Congresswoman Julia Letlow in the new 5th District, if at all?
Fields would start out with a seniority advantage over other new members, thanks to the two House terms he served during the 1990s. But consultant and pollster John Couvillon says the 6th District isn’t necessarily completely out of reach for a Republican.
Graves has shown the ability to attract Black voters, he says. And while the district’s voting-age Black population is around 54%, Couvillon doesn’t expect Democratic turnout this fall to match 2020.
“Depending on how many Democrats jump in, you cannot discount the possibility of this race going to a December runoff,” he adds. (Remember, we’re still using jungle primaries this year.)
Gary Chambers, who challenged U.S. Sen. John Kennedy in 2022 and finished a distant second in the decisive primary with 18% of the vote, says he is considering running in the 6th District, adding that he attracted more than 33,000 donors in his last race.
“Whatever I decide, I will be working to ensure the member of Congress is from Baton Rouge,” Chambers says.
Other Democrats considering the race include state Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, former state Sen. Greg Tarver and former Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall, USA Today Network journalist Greg Hilburn recently reported.
Graves could also run for a different seat, perhaps against Letlow if he wanted. Congressional candidates don’t have to live in the district they’re running to represent, and the new 5th would include about 42% of Graves’ current district.
But even as the population center of her district shifts toward the south while a swath of Ouachita Parish moves into U.S House Speaker Mike Johnson’s 4th District, Letlow remains a formidable candidate. She is likable, has a sympathetic personal story and sits on the Appropriations Committee, which is crucial to the state, says Eric Mahaffey of Quest Communication Consultants.
As of this writing, Letlow did not have an announced challenger.
Last year, state Sen. Katrina Jackson was quoted saying she would consider a run for Congress if a second Black district is created. Jackson did not respond to text messages seeking comment for this story.
She voted for SB 8, the bill creating the new map, the first time it was on the Senate floor, but did not vote on it one way or the other when it returned from the House, the Legislature’s records show.
Congresswoman Letlow will work to make sure Capital Region voters know her, Hilburn tells LaPolitics.
“She’s probably not a household name in that area,” Hilburn says. “They did bump up against it, so they’ve been in that media market before, but nothing like they’ll have to do this time.”